non-compliant space, the creative process

My New Novel Is Out, and I Apologize

The good news: Nahara, the sequel to Nantais, is now available on Amazon and for pre-order direct from the publisher. There’s also a re-release of Nantais, which I’m told has renovated typesetting.

Image: The cover of NAHARA, my latest novel and the sequel to NANTAIS

Now for the bad news.

I wish I could do more to celebrate and promote the release of this, my second published novel and the last one of my books my spouse will ever see (for maximum emotional effect, meditate on that fact as you read the ending). But I can’t.

Image: Blog post title image featuring the cover of my first novel, NANTAIS

In March, I lost my spouse in a motorcycle crash that left me with broken bones in both legs, pelvis and other places. I spent nearly a month in the hospital before I was allowed to come home. Three months later, I still cannot walk on my own.

I was so excited for this release. I started planning pre-release and release-date posts and events back in January. My goal was to have a grand time with this book right up until the rest of you got to see it, and then have fun reading it with you. 

The crash took that from me. The release was not rescheduled. All my plans and excitement are just…gone. 

For that, I’m sorry.

But, as events have turned out, maybe it’s for the best? After all, my “release date” ended up being more like a probability cloud than a fixed moment. When I looked up Nahara on Amazon, for instance, I discovered it was available there even though the publisher’s website still listed it as a pre-order. And several of my pre-release party plans depended on my receiving a galley for review, as well as my contributor copy of Spoon Knife 5. Neither one ever arrived. 

I never saw the re-release of Nantais, either. I’ve been told it’s beautiful. I hope so, given that it now also costs 40 percent more.

And now that both books are available to the public, at least through some channels, I find myself forced to give up all my own post-launch plans as well. I simply don’t have what it takes to do tie-in fiction or “Verity Rereads Her Own Book for the First Time In Four Years” livestreams or personalized signed copies right now. Not when my daily struggles involve planning my spouse’s funeral, settling his estate, dealing with medical appointments and insurance adjusters, and relearning how to stand up on my own.

I wanted to give you a party. I lost the chance. Instead I’m planning a different sort of event: A funeral for my best friend and partner, the best human being I have ever known.

I wish I could do that and settle an estate and wrangle insurers and walk, with energy left over to market a book. But I can’t. And I’m sorry.


Anyway, Nahara is out now. I hope you enjoy it. Next time I release a book, we’ll have the party I planned for this one – and then some.

Standard
non-compliant space

Niralanes 101: Welcome to the Language I Built a Novel Series Around

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series is a fantasy world built around Tolkien’s actual obsession: constructed languages. Tolkien wrote an entire series to explain the world behind languages he’d already invented.

He was that big of a nerd. And, it turns out, so am I.

The Non-Compliant Space series is, among other things, a setting for my own conlang obsessions. There are currently about four languages in the series in various states of construction, but by far the most well-developed (and most commonly used in the books) is Niralanes.

Book two in the series, Nahara, comes out soon from Autonomous Press. It contains entire scenes in which one or more characters speak Niralanes. Since all translations are approximate, here’s a primer on deciphering those sentences, if that’s your gig.

Image: A snowy night background with the title of this post and URL.

Basic Grammar

The basic unit of meaning in Niralanes is the verb. Nearly all words in Niralanes derive from a “root” verb form or can be traced back to a (now archaic) verb form. Verbs are identifiable primarily by their lack of any grammatical ending, or by the –ya (imperative) ending. They may also operate as proper names.

Other parts of speech may be identified with the following endings:

-ne adjective 

-es adverb or adjective; “in the manner of”

ie proper noun (titles)  

ya  proper noun (names)

-pa  noun (things, ideas) 

-ron noun (places, events) 

Sentences in Niralanes typically appear in subject-object-verb (SOV) order, although in some cases the object precedes the subject for emphasis (similar to the “passive voice” in Earth Standard). Endings that serve grammatical functions include:

-da possessive  

-eya  indirect object/object of the preposition

-ve plural (mass) 

-vo plural (discrete; things that can be owned)

-ai subject. When no verb follows, -ai functions as a copula.

No contractions are made when adding endings to a word. For instance, if a word ends in a, -ai is added directly, without omitting either a.

Ina  doripa an.

She (the) book writes.

Inaai anie.

She (is) (a)  writer.

Ina doripavo an.

She (the) book writes.

Emphasis on indirect objects is indicated by their placement in the sentence; the closer they appear to the subject, the greater the emphasis.

Ina doripa iaeya mai.

She (the) book to you-all gave. (She gave the book to you all.)

Ina iaeya doripa mai. 

She  to you-all (the) book gave. (To you all, she gave the book.)

Pronouns in Niralanes differ somewhat from those in Alash Kan or Earth Standard. Many speakers of these languages, feeling themselves unable to communicate without certain pronouns, have been known to insert Alash Kan pronouns. This is not recommended unless you know where Aristotle may stuff his triangle. Proper Niralanes pronouns include:

Inae 3d person plural 

Ina  3d person singular polite  

Ilik 3d person inferior 

Ia 2d person plural 

Issh 1st person plural mass 

Ila 1st person plural discrete 

Ihi 1st and 2nd person singular (used only when referring to kiiste)

Between Niralan speakers, pronouns are often omitted altogether. Speakers from the same kiiste will rarely use either the first or second person at all. Speakers/listeners from differing kiistes will often use ila for both speaker and listener to indicate agreement with one another and ia to indicate disagreement. Three or more kiiste in conversation will use issh to indicate agreement and ila to indicate disagreement. Offworld Niralan colonists nearly always use ila when speaking to, of or about Niralans born on Nirala.

Niralanes has no first person singular comparable to the Earth Standard I or second person singular comparable to the Earth Standard you. Many Niralans who have learned Earth Standard have learned to deploy these pronouns in contexts that sound native to an Earth Standard speaker. It should not, however, be assumed that because a Niralan uses I, she has the same internal experience of singularity as a human. The speaker has merely adopted a convention to make the Earth Standard listener more comfortable.

A non-Niralan speaker should never use issh or ihi.

Ina has a subtle sense of politeness when used to refer to a Niralan elder and a not-so-subtle sense of denigration when used to refer to any non-Niralan. In the latter context, ina serves as both 2nd and 3rd person singular. It is still not as degrading as ilik, which is a generalized 3rd person inferior when describing Niralans and 3d person plural when used to describe non-Niralans. Ilik functions similarly to the Earth Standard pronoun it.

Several nouns in Niralanes are irregular. Handle these with care. They invariably indicate a person, place, object, or idea of significant cultural importance.

Basic Pronunciation

Niralanes (lit. “in a Niralan manner”) is one of only two Niralan languages physically pronounceable by humans. It’s also the most commonly-spoken language on Nirala. 

Niralanes is transliterated into English at a ratio of one sound per letter. Stress is placed on the penultimate syllable of the word. 

Earth Standard speakers in particular are reminded that each syllable is pronounced separately. Repeating vowels are each pronounced individually and should be counted as separate syllables or parts of syllables.

kiiste name; person; front 

 ki-i-ste (3 syllables)

kiisteie “proper name”

ki-i-ste-i-e (5 syllables)

Many humans control the elision of repeating vowels by inserting a slight stop or pause between them. This stop or pause is transliterated with an apostrophe: . Certain words in Niralanes also incorporate the stop as a feature of pronunciation, usually to indicate negation. Since the human vocal apparatus cannot articulate the difference in sound between these two types of stops in practice, it’s best not to worry too much about which is which.

Pronunciation of each transliterated sound is as follows:

a as in father or optics

i as in pita or messy

o as in rotate or bowl

e as in mess or negative 

E is the most difficult vowel for most Earth Standard speakers. Take care not to slide into the diphthong ay or the schwa in unstressed syllables. When in doubt, simply push air through the open teeth without vocalizing, similar to a cat who is protesting a late dinner. Similarly, take care not to let a slide into the diphthong ay or to shorten the o (it should never sound like a).

Consonants in Niralanes are as follows:

m as in moon or many  n as in never or no

v as in velvet or voiceless s as in slither or soundless (not as in prise)

j as in jewel or jocular y as in yet or yellow

d as in dog or daring t as in distend or pretend

p as in nip or spin k as in kick or flak

t, k and p are never aspirated, resulting in some confusion between d and t, k and t, and p and b (which does not appear in Niralanes) in early transliterations.

f as in fade, soft (not to be confused with v)

r as in rain or brave, but with the teeth bared slightly over the lips (rather than pursed) and the tongue somewhat flatter behind the front teeth.

l as in last or laminate, but with the tongue somewhat further back than in Earth Standard.

h either as in hot or as in French helás. The latter is transliterated (h) in some texts and in others. Do your best. 

Niralan children learn Niralanes, along with several other languages, from birth. Niralanes therefore functions as a planetary lingua franca, similar to the adoption of Alash Kan or Earth Standard among their respective speakers. Consequently, it is reasonable to assume that every Niralan you meet will speak it fluently. 

It is not, however, reasonable to assume that every Niralan you meet will speak. 

Wh- Questions, Numbers, and So On

Wh- questions, in Niralanes, are perhaps better thought of as Old- questions, “old-” being the prefix used to form them. Old- words can be placed anywhere in the sentence.

They include:

Oldie: whom, what

Oldron: when/whenever, where/wherever

Oldne: which/whichever, who/whose

Oldes: why/whyever

Niralans count in base-6, which can make discussions involving Nirala-related numbers confusing for listeners accustomed to a base-10 system. The numbers themselves are not difficult to learn, however; they consist of a “d” sound before the four vowels, the imperative -ya, and the negative stop, respectively:

0 da

1 di

2 de

3 do

4 dya

5 d’t

Numbers can be further adapted with the standard grammatical suffixes (see above). For instance, “second” can be constructed with “de” or 2, plus “-ne,” adjective.

Some Vocabulary

ama: to “get your feet under you,” to anticipate, to be a person, to be old enough, to be ready, to chatter, to have energy but no clear purpose

anev: to discover, to err but it works out, to make a serendipitous mistake, to have the odds fall in your favor a statistically suspicious number of times for no reason

anha: to blame, to diminish, to cause pain, to injure, to punish, to sacrifice (someone else), to set back, to shame

dar: to argue, to clarify, to discern, to experiment, to explain, to know because you reasoned it out and can “show your work,” to prove, to be blunt, to test, to understand, to agree to something because you already figured out that was the solution

hodevri: to ache, to act against one’s will and at great personal cost, to be insignificant in the face of a greater end, to oppose, to sacrifice oneself, to suffer, to do what is necessary

ise: to act with purpose, to avenge, to confront, to do what is possible, to fight, to forge ahead

ji: to catch up, to detail, to fall behind, to follow, to know because you studied every aspect, to organize, to procrastinate, to systematize, to teach, to be unable to see the forest for the trees

koa: to attend upon, to care for, to heal, to hold space for (someone present), to invest in a person or cause, to listen mindfully, to shelter

ola: to elide, to elude with an intent to deceive, to erase, to forget, to know something no one else knows, to lie by omission, to have the memory of a past feeling but not the feeling itself

pi: to confuse, to deceive others, to efface, to elude because unknowable, to know by supernatural means, to lie intentionally or overtly, to question by asking the unanswerable, to trick, to wonder

rion: to conserve, to discipline, to do one’s duty, to obey, to reserve for future protection or use, to train

tae: to blaze a trail, to disobey, to inspire, to know because f*ck you that’s how, to lead, to progress, to run

vioka: to circle the wagons, to civilize, to congregate, to hunker down, to settle

Meaning and Content

Niralanes is the lingua franca of Nirala, a planet with a population of only a few thousand people – all of whom communicate emotional content via touch, rather than via behavior, as humans do. (“That’s an interesting hat,” said with a smile, means something different than when it’s said with a grimace. The facial expression is behavior.)

Words for emotional states are thus utterly absent from the language; the closest way to communicate emotions in Niralanes is by describing the physical sensations they produce. Even then, it’s dodgy. Are you “nervous,” or do you have a stomach ailment?

Because humans are used to word-based communication conveying emotional content, reading Niralanes can be difficult. Connotation doesn’t exist in this language. Instead, every word covers myriad related concepts. A speaker or writer might mean to evoke all those concepts at once, or only certain aspects.

Niralans know which is which through touch. Humans have to muddle along by holding all possible meanings of each word in their minds simultaneously.

My goal, in constructing Niralanes this way, was to create a language that forced neurotypical humans to experience language the way I experience language: as an interconnected web of meaning-making possibilities, affected not only by behavior but also by wholly interior mental states. For me, some of those are emotional, some are associative memory, and some are synesthesia, and there are no clear boundaries between those three categories.

Some people just want to read space adventures, which is why Nantais and Nahara offer translations where what has been said is relevant to the plot. But the translations are themselves artistic choices made by the author with the specific intent to drive English-only readers to one particular interpretation of the series’ events and meaning. The translations are not what the Niralanes content “means.” Nor are they always accurate depictions of the events of the story. To understand that, the reader has no choice but to experience language my way.


For the cost of a cup of coffee, you can keep this blog running and the novels flowing.

Standard
AI and predictive text, non-compliant space, satire, fiction and humor

They Don’t Know What They’re Looking For: An AI Generates Book Marketing Copy for NAHARA

Move over, Botnik: I have a new AI obsession.

Enter copy.ai, which is specifically designed to help marketers generate social media copy for their products. It’s basically GPT-3 trained on a bunch of marketing copy.

I’ve been playing around with promotional copy for NAHARA, Book 2 of the Non-Compliant Space Series (due Q1 2021 from Neuroqueer Books!). So I decided to ask copy.ai to weigh in.

The Copy

Something’s rotten in registered space – and the crew of the Jemison intend to find out what it is.

After uncovering a slavery plot on a far-flung space station, the Jemison heads for an even further-flung planet suspected of supplying the trafficked slaves. They find the last thing they expect: a Niralan colony lost for centuries, guarding a terrible secret. But the Jemison’s crew are carrying deadly information of their own in a book whose destructive – or creative – force could change life as they know it.

And Compliance is coming for them.

copy.ai’s Facebook Post Recommendations

When one of you is a Compliance Officer, there’s no such thing as personal space. But are you ready for what happens when the crew of the Jemison defies authority? NAHARA: A Tale of Compliance.

…I like this one. It’s basically NAHARA from the point of view of the antagonist. (N.b. The antagonist is not read for what happens when the crew of the Jemison defies authority.)

NAHARA is a technological and biological marvel, a gripping sci-fi thriller, and a reminder of humankind’s capacity for ethical atrocity.

Forget social media promotion; I’m repurposing this as a back cover blurb. “Humankind’s capacity for ethical atrocity,” indeed.

Compliance. The word itself is instant code for resistance, noncompliance and the deepest threat to humanity’s survival.

“Compliance” is code for…wait, what?

Also, not everything is about humans, geez.

NAHARA is a scifi noir detective series. Set in a future where the U.S. has lost its first-world status, it follows an ex-cop (Santiago), his mentor (Brizuela), and the android liaison (Andora) who get tangled in interplanetary intrigue and conspiracies when a strange book falls into their hands.

I hate it when the AI writes a better book than I wrote.

Google Descriptions

These are 90-ish character descriptions tuned for Google search results. I am…disturbed.

The crew of the Jemison is a burnt-out, near-mutinous group – former partners drawn together

…I mean, no lies detected.

After the UN-sanctioned slaughter of the Niralan homeworld, one captain and her crew

copy.ai just took a very dark turn. I mean, sure, NAHARA has slavery and murder and messy breakups in it, but it doesn’t have genocide. …yet.

Deep Space Nine relaunch. The Jemison crew try to navigate their way through the newly discovered Niralan

How DARE you, GPT-3. Nahara is very obviously a Voyager reboot.

Instagram Captions to Create Vibes

I’m not sure what vibes are or whether it is strictly OSHA compliant to create them by rubbing GPT-3 all over my novel manuscript. But here we go.

They couldn’t afford to let it go. They didn’t know what they were taking on. And by the time they did, only one of them could save the ship.

This is a better blurb than anything I have written so far, and I 100 percent want to steal it and put it on the back of the book in place of that thing I wrote at the beginning of this post.

You’re in the wrong storyline, Compliance said.

Dammit.

I’m a Niralan diplomat. This was my life. I am not accustomed to mercy, or forgiveness.

…Actually, this is the plot of THE AMBASSADOR.


NAHARA comes out in early 2021. Until then, pick up the prequel, NANTAIS, from the publisher or on Amazon Dot Com.

Standard